Monday, February 27, 2012

A Catholic Reply to a Baptist Response. . .

Pastor Calvert,

My apologies for taking this long to reply. 

I would like to start this response where I ended my initial letter:
Philippians 2:12 says, "Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling." This is not the language of self-confident eternal assurance. Our salvation is something that remains to be worked out with the grace of God.

I think you may misunderstand what I, as a Catholic, believe about my salvation. Maybe I was somehow unclear, for I don't believe that it is "magic" at all. The Catholic Church teaches that we are all sinners in need of a savior (Romans 5:12-21). We have inherited original sin and all its consequences, and by actual sin we distance ourselves from God. We can't save ourselves, but we don't need to: Jesus Christ has paid the price for our sins. The Catholic Church teaches that salvation comes through Jesus alone (Acts 4:12), since he is the "one mediator between God and man" (1 Timothy 2:5-6).

The saving grace won by Jesus is given as a free gift, accessible to us through repentance, faith, and baptism; should we turn away from our sins, are penitent for them, and believe in Jesus Christ and the Gospel. I think you have acknowledged in your sermons that even Christians sin and must be remorseful and confess those sins to God. Our repentance shows the willingness to turn from things that keep us from God, and baptism renews, i.e. washes, us (John 3:22, Acts 22:16), filling us with the grace necessary to have faith and to live it. This belief is more than just intellectual assent, even the demons have that (James 2:19). It's more than just believing you're saved, even the Pharisees had that (John 5:39). True, saving faith is one lived and exhibited daily: It is "faith working through love" (Galatians 5:6,  James 2:1-26).

Catholics have been accused of teaching "salvation by works," but this is an empty accusation. Much as you have in your sermons, this idea has also been consistently condemned by the Church. Good works are required by God because He requires obedience to His commands (Matthew 6:1-21, 1 Corinthians 3:8, 13-15) and promises to reward us with eternal life if we obey (Matthew 25:34-40, Romans 2:6-7, Galatians 6:6-10, James 1:12), i.e., "continue in His kindness" (Romans 11:22). But even our obedience is impossible without God's grace; even our good works are God's gift (Romans 5:5, Philippians 2:13). This is the real biblical plan of salvation.

The Council of Trent brings together the necessity of grace and works:
"If anyone says that man can be justified before God by his own works, whether done by his own natural powers or by the teaching of the Law, without divine grace through Jesus Christ, let him be anathema" (Session 6; Canon 1).
The Council Fathers continued by saying:
"If anyone says that the sinner is justified by faith alone, meaning that nothing else is required to cooperate in order to obtain the grace of justification and that it is not in any way necessary that he be prepared and disposed by the action of his own will, let him be anathema" (Session 6: Canon 9).
With respect to your comment regarding my statement about dying in a "state of grace". Do you not admit that when we sin, we are by definition, rejecting the grace given to us; and subsequently if we repent we are again given God's grace? This is to what I was referring. To be an adopted son of God IS to live in His grace. I would therefore be hard pressed to say that it has "no biblical backing".

In your analysis of the Parable of the Prodigal Son you overlooked what I see as its main point. The son confessed his sin to his father, as was forgiven and was accepted back into the family. In his Apostolic Exhortation Reconciliatio et Paenitentia Blessed Pope John Paul II used the parable of the Prodigal Son to explain the process of conversion (I would hope you would recognize our life as Christians on this earth as a continual conversion in our love of Christ) and reconciliation, and that God the Father is "rich in mercy" (as illustrated in the parable) and is always ready to forgive and that reconciliation is a gift on His part. In concluding your comments on this parable you said,

"When he comes to senses and returns to God he will not be able to relive the missed opportunities, but neither will he have to enter God’s house as a hired hand—he is still God’s child."

I would agree with that statement with one not so minor caveat. I would instead say, "—he is once again God’s child." I think this fits the entirety of the New Testament message more completely. I agree God gives “eternal life” to all who believe in Christ (John 3:16; 5:24, etc.). I agree “no one can snatch followers of Christ out of Jesus’ hand” (John 10:29-30). And I agree we are kept by the power of Christ who is “able to keep [us] from falling and to present [us] without blemish before the presence of his glory…” (Jude 24; cf. Ephesians 1:14).  However, no biblical text (despite your assertion that, "There is no thing or no person (most definitely, including our own selves) that can cause us to be plucked from His hand.") denies that followers of Christ can walk away from Him. To assert such a thing would be a denial of our God-given Free Will and therefore have God contradicting Himself, wouldn't it Pastor Calvert?

Moreover, the New Testament repeatedly sets conditions upon our salvation:
1. We must be baptized (Mark 16:16; Romans 6:3-4).
2. We must continue to abide in Christ in order to receive the promise of eternal life (1 John 2:23-25).
3. We must be obedient (Matthew 19:16; Romans 6:16; Hebrews 5:8-9; Acts 5:29-32)
4. We must endure until the end to be saved (Matthew 10:22; Revelation 2:10). 
If we refuse to obey, we will be lost (cf. Matthew 24:45-51). My Church teaches we can “know we have eternal life” if we understand “knowledge” as St. John does in 1 John 5:13. In verse 14 the Blessed Apostle refers to this “knowledge” as a “confidence” analogous to the “knowledge” we have of our receiving what we petition God for in prayer. We use the term similarly in English: “I know I am going to get an A on that exam tomorrow.” Contrary to your assertion, I most certainly did not discount this verse. I simply don't discount the conditions St. John also enumerates for our attaining eternal life in this same epistle (1 John 1:7-9; 2:23-25; 3:15). By these and others we know this confident assurance is not absolute. The main point is this: The eternal life we can “know” we possess and that is promised to us can be lost
“Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in his goodness: otherwise thou also shalt be cut off. And they also, if they abide not still in unbelief, shall be grafted in: for God is able to graft them in again.” (Romans 11:22-23 KJV; cf. John 15:1-6, Hebrews 12:14-15, 2 Peter 2:20-22).
If Christians cannot lose their salvation, as you claim, then why would St. Paul warn his audience about a "danger" that couldn't happen to them? St. Paul's warning here is most definitely to a Christian audience (the Church in Rome). He warns them that they could lose their salvation if they do not remain in God's grace. St. Paul's clear teaching here applies to all Christians, most especially US. Additionally I think the conclusion you draw about Hebrews 10 "not talking about saved people" is incorrect. The only people who had "received the knowledge of the truth" and had thereby been "sanctified by the covenant blood" were Christians. So it's clear to whom the warning in verses 26-29 applies. Simply put, the Christian who turns away from God and returns to a life of sin suffers worse punishment than the person who never was sanctified by the "covenant blood" of Christ.

In conclusion, I think you tend to emphasize the texts that speak of God's power and protection and the blessed assurance that the faithful possess that are rooted in hope to the exclusion of the texts that plainly say that Christians can fall away from the living God or walk way from God's protection (Hebrews 3:12; cf. Matthew 5:32-33; Ephesians 5:3-6). This is never more evident than your use of St. Paul's "confidence" in his own salvation in chapter 1 of 1 Corinthians as an example, while simultaneously ignoring him when he blatantly states that even he could be lost in chapter 9. In doing so, I believe you fail to declare, as St. Paul does, the "whole counsel of God" that is necessary for salvation.

Thank you for taking the time to reply to my letter, you are a gentleman and I consider you a brother in Christ. I will make it a point to introduce myself should I have an occasion to attend one of your services. However, if you are available this Saturday, I'd like to extend an invitation to the Arlington Diocese's 2012 Men's Conference that is being held at St. Joseph's Parish Hall in Herndon. This years topic is, ironically enough, Sharing Our Faith with Others: Evangelization and Apologetics. Let me know if you are interested, I believe I can get you free admission.

Lastly, I appreciate your concern and would like to assure you that everything I believe as a Christian is most assuredly resting 100% on the saving work of Christ on the Cross and the power of His resurrection as taught by the Church He himself founded. My prayer for you is for an open heart and a desire, drawn by the Holy Spirit, to know the fullness of the Christian faith that is found in the Catholic Church. God Bless.

In the Love of Christ,

Craig Pryor

A Response from a Baptist Pastor

Dear Craig,

Thanks again for your interest in the message I preached on our position in Christ after salvation.  Hopefully I am going to try to answer your questions.  But if you have additional questions please do not hesitate to follow up.

We do believe wholeheartedly that we can know with absolute certainty that we are saved.  This is one of the most precious doctrines of the Scriptures.  The passages you allude to in Matthew (24 & 25) must be taken in their original context.  Christ is here addressing the future in a prophetical sense.  He was not talking in the sense of the “end” when every one eventually dies.  He goes to great lengths to describe what it will be like in the end times(something that I might add, seems not too far off from where we live now).  It is the knowledge that a child of God is in fact saved that helps him to keep going and that will help him in the end time of tribulation to maintain his faith in God.  It would be totally incorrect to imply that every person throughout history who has been saved has faced the type of persecution and tribulation that Jesus describes in both of these chapters.

You are correct in that there are different aspects of our salvation.  But since our salvation is free gift from God (Romans 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”), should He give us a gift and then take it from us would make Him less than God.

You may recall that one of the key points I emphasized in the message is man’s heart.  We do know our own hearts.  Although we may put on a masterful mask and fool others (seems like we see this all too often in the lives of those in power, and sadly, even in the pulpit) we will never fool God.  Our Lord Himself warned us of those who come in sheep’s clothing but, in reality, they are wolves(Matthew 7:15).  This is why Paul emphasizes that salvation is not a matter of the head, but of the heart: “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead thou shalt be saved.  For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation” (Romans 10:9,10).  Note also in both of these verse that no room is left for doubt whether or not the individual is truly saved when he has confessed with his mouth and believed with his heart.  The Bible clearly states “shalt” be saved; not “might” or“possibly”. 

Your question regarding the Parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15 is a good one.  There are several observations that must not be overlooked.  Although the son foolishly took his inheritance and wasted it in the world, while he was living in absolute squalor eating what he was feeding the pigs, he was no less his father’s son in that condition.  He tried to state otherwise when he decided to seek better living accommodations back at his father’s house and said so:“Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, And am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants” (Luke 15:18,19).  Yet his father refused to look at him as a servant and immediately recognized him as his son.  On the other hand, the other brother who did not waste his substance in the world, became angry with his father over the welcome home celebration that occurred.  But the father let him know that all of his inheritance was yet to be enjoyed.  The prodigal son did not receive a second inheritance; that was already spent.  But he was nonetheless still a part of the family and hence, still saved.  The older son who had not wandered in the world still had his inheritance in tact.  So, too, when a known child of God wanders from Him and goes in to the world he will no longer enjoy the benefits of close fellowship with the Father, but he is still God’s child (assuming he has genuinely accepted him as Savior prior to his wandering).  When he comes to senses and returns to God he will not be able to relive the missed opportunities, but neither will he have to enter God’s house as a hired hand—he is still God’s child.

With all due respect, I would also remind you that your statement [One who dies in the state of friendship with God (the state of grace) will go to Heaven. The one who dies in a state of enmity and rebellion against God (the state of mortal sin) will go to Hell; for they have chosen it and God will respect that choice.] has no Biblical backing.  There is no such “state of grace.”  Grace is a gift from God extended to all but enjoyed only by those who personally accept it.  (Ephesians 2:8,9, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.”  Also Titus 3:5 makes mention of the fact that our works have nothing to do with our salvation:“Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost.”  And 2 Timothy 1:9, “Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began.”)

The Hebrews 10 and 2 Peter 2 passages are not talking about saved people.  They refer to those who have heard the truth but who have decided to reject Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.  Since Jesus is the only way to heaven, there is no other option for them but eternal damnation in hell.  Jesus Christ talks of this when He shares with us the parable of the sower (Matthew 13; Mark 4; Luke 8). He mentions that some of the seed (i.e. the word – Mark 4:14) fell on stony ground and did spring up, but was scorched by the sun because it had no root.  There are those who hear the truth and who may for a time appear to be a child of God but when difficulty arises they quickly turn from God because they were never truly part of His family.

The Apostle Paul was one who from the time of his conversion on the road to Damascus firmly believed he was saved and at no point doubted whether or not he would enter heaven’s gates.  1 Corinthians 4:4, the passage you cited, is given in a context of nay sayers who were trying to dismiss Paul’s authority.  To them he responded that he was not the one who had to justify himself, it was God alone.  He continues in the same passage to state that he was made “a spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men” (4:9).  He further states that he was reviled and defamed.  In Acts 20 he also talks of the afflictions and persecution that he faced but he went on to say “But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course withjoy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God” (24:16).  He hits on the same thing in 2Timothy 1:12, “For the which cause I also suffer these things:nevertheless I am not ashamed: for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him against that day.”  He was very confident of his security in Christ. 

In the first chapter of 1 Corinthians Paul asserts his confidence in his own salvation and in the salvation of many of his hearers: “For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.”  He does not say “which hope to be saved” but rather, “which are saved.”  And he also confirms that it is all the working of God’s power.

Please do not misinterpret what salvation is.  It is not a “lucky rabbit’s foot” that allows me to live like the devil and yet, still enter heaven.  Salvation is the gift of God which allows me as a hell-deserving sinner to be cleansed by the blood of Jesus Christ and rest assured that heaven will be my eternal home someday.  For me to add to Christ’s shed blood even one of my single works (which Isaiah calls “filthy rags” – Isaiah 64:6) would render the work of Christ of no effect.  Christ is not part of my salvation; He is all of my salvation.  But it is up to every individual to accept or reject that free gift.  He offers it to the whole world, but there are millions who refuse to receive it. 

When a person receives Christ as his Savior he becomes a “new creature.”  “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new,” (2 Corinthians 5:17).  As I repent of my sins and receive Christ I now desire to please my heavenly Father.  I now desire to do what is acceptable in His sight, although I am still far from perfect.  The Holy Spirit will work in the heart of the true believer to sanctify him and cause him to be more like Christ.

In Philippians 2:12 Paul is reminding the believers of the importance of sanctification regarding their salvation; he is not referring in any way to justification.  That is clear from the very next verse where he states that it is only God who saves us: “For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure.”  He also states in the next chapter that he has “no confidence in the flesh,” (3:3).  He was not in any way thinking that he was able to play a role in the justifying aspect of his salvation.

John 10 provides a beautiful picture of who Christ is.  He tells his followers that “the sheep follow Him:for they know His voice.”  He also tells us that He is “the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out,and find pasture.”  In verse 14 He says, “I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine.”  He gives us a beautiful promise of eternal security when He continues later on in the same chapter: “And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of My Father’s hand,”(v. 28).  This makes it extremely clear that once a person is saved and receives the gift of eternal life it is God alone who keeps us in His hand.  There is no thing or no person (most definitely, including our own selves) that can cause us to be plucked from His hand.  If I could somehow cause myself to be plucked from His hand it would imply that I am stronger than God, or that Christ was lying when He made this promise. 

I close with the same verse you discounted: “These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that he have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God,” (1 John 5:13). The chapter builds on this theme of knowledge and assurance.  We can have confidence in our prayers (v. 14) if we have believed on the name of the Son God.  If we know that He hears us then we can know that we will receive our petitions according to His will (v. 15).  We can know that we are born of God (v. 18), we can know that we are of God (v. 19), we know that the Son of God has come, and “we may know him that is true, and we are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ.  This is the true God, and eternal life.”  (vv. 20,21).

My personal prayer for you, Craig, is that you will take to heart the message of God’s free gift of salvation and receive it today, resting 100% solely on the saving work of Christ on the cross and the power of His resurrection.  He died and rose again not so that you might hope to have your sins forgiven but so that you might know you can have your sins forgiven.  It is through no merit of our own, but solely through the grace of our great God.  Should you desire to hear more I would love to meet you personally in one of our services.  Not knowing where you live and whether or not you are familiar with where our church is located, we are right at the intersection of the Fairfax County  Parkway (Rt. 7100) and Burke Lake Road.  If you do happen to come please introduce yourself.  It would be a joy to meet you in person.

In His Strength,

Fairfax Baptist Temple

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